We did the Carp star party on Saturday, July 27th and I already blogged about it (AstroBlog 2019, outing #11 – Star party in Carp…). It was touch and go for the clouds earlier in the day, but we declared GO and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the best was somewhat less than our hopes. Clouds covered good-sized swaths in the sky, and while we got to show Jupiter and Saturn quite extensively, not much else was on the agenda for the evening. While it was a fun night, and we had a good crowd, it was hard to say it was a “success”. However, a couple of members suggested giving it a go for the backup night too, and with the permission of our location hosts, we did the Star Party again on Friday, August 2nd.
The night was good and the weather was solid. Since I had someone else ready to act as the closing “marshal” for the event, it meant I could leave early. And thus I could take Jacob to his first star party where he would have his OWN SCOPE set up. The plan was relatively simple…arrive early, set up both scopes, observe for about 90 minutes, and then book it home to put the cub to bed.
I was a bit later leaving to get there than I intended as I was a bit tired. But I got all the gear in the trunk and we made it about 10-15 minutes later than I originally hoped. That makes it a little tight for setting up, and because other people were already there, we couldn’t set up right at the front. I hadn’t put much thought into “where” we would set up, but Jacob’s scope is short. So we should have been right at the front if we could have been. We weren’t, and while I started off with our two scopes relatively side by side with just a little table between us, I had to move his farther back so that he wouldn’t be blocked by the lines and people observing through other scopes. Live and learn, right?
Setup for my scope was relatively fine, as it was for his, at least initially. Everything together, he did most of his and was ready to go. Except the bugs were bad, and he went up to the car to get something. On the way back, he tripped going over a curb and skinned both shins badly enough to bleed. I was still trying to set everything up before it got dark, so Andrea went and helped him. She brushed him off, blotted the wounds with Kleenex, and did the best to keep him calm and not freaking out. Right up until she sprayed bug spray on his open wounds. The reaction was rapid and intense. She tried cleaning it off with water from his water bottle, but it still stung like hell. I thought he would be completely done at that point. But he wasn’t. She got him calmed back down and he came over to work the scope.
By this point, it was dark enough to get started with observing, and the line-ups of public stargazers were already starting to form. I pointed my scope towards the moon and then handed over the controls to Andrea, much to her surprise and initial consternation. But she could keep it aligned and people could view, so I went and got Jacob going.
At first, his 4SE scope was NOT cooperating for alignment. For some reason, the new battery in his red dot finder wasn’t working, no idea why, and so he was only using the Rigel Finder. The last time we used it, I wasn’t that impressed, and this time I was initially VERY frustrated. We were aligning just fine with just it, but then when I checked in the scope, even with a huge field with a low-power eyepiece, the target wasn’t even IN the field of view. WTF? His scope is only set up for his height, and we forgot the step stool we use for viewing, so I had nothing to sit on. Meanwhile, I’m hunched over his low scope trying to figure out WHY it’s not working! Frak!
I decided to go back to absolute basics. I pick a light on the horizon, not a star, and try to line upon it. But while the Rigel Finder is set on it, the main scope isn’t even CLOSE to the horizon. It’s off by almost 5 degrees. WTF? I reached out to adjust the Rigel Finder and it came off in my hands. It wasn’t clipped in at the front, just one side. So it was angled upwards. Doh! I reattached it, made sure it fully snapped in, swung over to Jupiter, and BAM! There it was in the scope too. Whew!
Jacob had been waning between the slow start, frustrating options, and the pain in his legs. But once he was up and running, he found Jupiter, and then Saturn all on his own. The moon was too low in the sky for him to see past the people viewing through other scopes, but he had it working. I gave him a bunch of extra EPs, but he ended up using his main one for the night. I had hoped to test him on a bunch of different EPs to see which ones he liked, but we got sidetracked with viewers. I stood back more than once and watched him demonstrate his scope for strangers, and he showed them Saturn and Jupiter with great pride. Plus he loved them all congratulating him on how well he did working the scope.
Meanwhile, Andrea was being put through her paces. So I rescued her, not that she needed it, and let her go hang out with Jacob so he could show off for her. I mostly kept the scope on the moon until it was below the horizon, and kept it controlled manually, but people seemed to really enjoy it. I used my standard eyepiece-of-choice, the 17.3mm Delos with the wide FoV, and it is very forgiving for newbies and the public in general.
Shutting down was hard, I felt like I had to turn people away, but Jacob had to get home. Definitely a successful evening, we just know that we have to get there earlier next time so he can be at the front of the rows with no one blocking his lower height. I was also surprised — there were at least two other young scope operators there that night, something that doesn’t normally happen.
But I think I most enjoyed seeing Jacob beaming after showing some random strangers the mysteries of Saturn and Jupiter. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a drug. Good to get him hooked early.